Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Celebration of Oil - aka - Hanukkah [part 3]


Latkes (potato pancakes) are probably the best known Hanukkah food in the U.S. There are as many ways to make latkes as there are families that make them. My latke recipe was born out of many holiday seasons working as a caterer and private chef, in other words, trial and error.

I often make a mix of sweet potato and yukon gold potatoes, but you can make this recipe with any type of potato you like.

3 large sweet potatoes
5 large yukon gold or white potatoes
2 large onions
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour (more if needed) - or a starch of your choice for gluten free (corn, arrowroot etc)
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying

1. Shred potatoes with a food processor or a box grater.

2. Rinse the potatoes in cold water and drain 3 or 4 times until the water is clear and the starch is removed from the outside of the potatoes. Drain well, squeezing out any excess water.
Peel and slice the onions into quarters. Place the onions in a food processor and blend until they are well chopped. Add the eggs and flour and puree until smooth.

3. Add the onion mixture to the potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and toss until the potatoes are well coated. The potatoes should have a thin coating of the onion/egg mixture. You can add a little more flour to the batter if it seems like it needs more binding. Place the batter in a colander set over a large bowl, so that the water that starts to seep from the potatoes (from the salt in the batter) is removed.  Note: if your batter starts to seem too dry, you can mix a little of this liquid back in.

4. In a heavy frying pan, heat about 1/2inch of oil until a small amount of batter dropped in it sizzles as soon as it is dropped in.Using tongs or a large spoon, place small mounds of batter around the frying pan and gently press them down to make the tops flat. the oil should be sizzling very fast around the edges. when the bottoms are well browned, turn latkes over and cook a few minutes more until they are olden brown.The oil must be very hot so that they cook quickly and do not absorb the grease. If your latkes are soggy and greasy, your oil is not hot enough.

5. Remove latkes and place them on a rack to cool in a single layer. Once they have cooled, you can lean them up against each other as shown in the picture below. You can reheat latkes while they are stacked like this, the heat circulates well around them, and since they are not lying flat, none of them are absorbing oil from the bottom of the pan. To heat heat, place in a preheated 400 degree oven.

When we have a big family meal there are usually a lot of dietary restrictions to take into account. I usually find this to be a fun challenge. We have one person with celiac (my grandmotehr) and one with wheat sensitivity (my husband), so I made our latkes with spelt for the wheat sensitivity, and a batch with corn starch (or you can use tapioca starch or arrowroot) for the gluten free variety. My sister's boyfriend is a Sufi Muslim, so he only eats hallal or kosher meat. We ate fish and chicken the night before, so we opted for a vegetarian menu for this night.

In addition to our sweet potato latkes, we had:
French lentils with roasted apples and onions

Baked tofu with broiled lemons and pistachios, and a rif on a yemeni pesto called zhoug I had in the fridge (ours included garlic, cardamom, caraway seeds, olive oil and salt) it usually would have cilantro added in to make a fabulous pesto type condiment, but I didn't have any, so we made due without.

All in all it was a fun meal to make and most of all to eat!
Happy Hanukkah!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Celebration of Oil - aka - Hanukkah [Part 2]

Ok, so it is that time of year when we get a week of celebrating hanukkah, the festival of lights, and oil. Originally this was a festival of lights made of oil, now, it is a festival of candle light and a plethorah of foods cooked in oil. For eastern European Jewish people this means latkes, for Israeli's this means Soofganiot (jelly doughnuts), for some American Jews it means homemade eggrolls, or falafel, and later this week, for this Jewish girl married to an American born Ifa Priest (traditional Yoruba/Nigerian religion), it means Akara (blackeyed pea fritters).

But, to start this week of festivities, as you might have gleaned from the abundance of photos above, I made jelly doughnuts. This was a spur of the moment decision while I was making challah dough on Friday afternoon, I decided to pull out a doughnut dough recipe to see if I might alter my challah dough and save a bit for making a treat for Saturday morning's breakfast. The doughnut recipe had buttermilk, powdered milk, a tablespoon of nutmeg and 15 eggs. It involved making a sponge and then beating in the butter and eggs...well, it was just a bit too complicated for me when i still had a pile of pillows to finish sewing for all of the family gifts for the next day. So, I just made my basic challah dough, took half of it out to make a loaf of bread and then added 1/4 cup of cream, 2 tablespoons of softened butter and a bunch of fresh ground nutmeg to the other half of the dough. This made a softer, richer dough which I hoped would mimic the doughnut recipe. I put this dough in the fridge to hold until Saturday morning.
On Saturday morning when the dough came to room temperature, I rolled out 2 rectangles 1/4inch thick. On one I marked circles gently with the back side of a large circle cutter. Then I brushed the circles with beaten egg, and topped each with a spoonful of good jam, (I used some homemade peach jam from the end of summer, but any good jam will do). I covered this dough and jam with the second rectangle of dough. With the dull side of a smaller circle cutter I gently pressed down around the jam to seal the two sheets of dough together. You can also press gently with your fingers to seal the dough. Then, I used the larger cutter to cut out the doughnuts. I placed them on a very well floured baking sheet and let them rest and proof for about 20 minutes or until soft and starting to puff. (I had to put my pans on a radiator since my house is cold). You can re-roll the scraps and make doughnut rings and holes as well.

To fry doughnuts heat vegetable, safflower or canola oil (preferably a brand of non genetically modified oil) to around 350 degrees. Gently drop doughnuts into oil and cook till golden brown, flipping over when one side is cooked. Drain on a rack if you have one.
When cool, toss doughnuts in sugar. You can add spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom to the sugar if you like.

Basic Challah dough and modification for Doughnuts
1 1/3 cups warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
1/2 cup sugar, honey or agave
1/2 cup oil
1 tablespoon salt
5-6 cups flour (or more) - about 1/3 of this is whole wheat or whole spelt

additions for doughnut dough:
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter softened
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

Another idea:
With a few leftover scraps of dough, we made some mock brioche filled with almond paste that were baked in the oven.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The celebration of oil - aka - hanukkah [Part1]

We are just starting the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, and a week long cooking event filled with OIL! There is so much to know about oil in our diets these days. Some are good for us, and in moderation, our bodies need oils to function well. However, these days many oils in store bought foods are hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, high oleic, modified, iteresterified, etc...all of those words you will find in the ingredient list of packaged foods, and none of them are good for you. I try to eat mostly, whole foods, so I am able to avoid these most of the time, but I do have one big challenge when buying cooking oil, and the answer can't be found on any labels: Genetically Modified Organisms.

Most people in the U.S. have no idea that most bottles of cooking oil in a regular grocery store are made from genetically modified or engineered ingredients. When I go to the chain grocery store near my home, in the cooking oil section I primarily find 3 kinds of oil: vegetable (soy), canola, and corn. All of these oils are made from three of the most highly genetically modified crops grown in this country. However, nowhere on the bottle or in an ingredient list are they required to tell us that.

It is easy to find scientists who will tell you that there is no proven harm to eating geneticaly modified foods. I don't believe this for a second, and find it to be incredibly arrogant for anyone to make such a statement. These ingredients have only been in our food supply for a short time, and had very little testing before they were introduced. I did hear a study once where they gave mice a choice between two seemingly identical foods, one was genetically modified and the other wasn't and the mouse always chose to eat the non-genetically modified food. There is a difference.

As a logical argument, changing the basic genetic structure of an organism couldn't possibly be good for us, or for the environment, genetic engineers are messing with mother nature, with no idea of the consequences. Genetic modification is not the same as grafting or the crossing of plant varieties that farmers and nature have done for generations. The genetic engineering of food can have devastating effects on agriculture. (Check for more info and links on this and many other sustainability issues)

I sometimes feel that I have so much information about our food system and ingredients in our food supply, that it makes it very hard to shop for food. Now that I don't live near a great food coop, I have to go to numerous stores, farmers markets and farms to supply my family with healthy "natural" and affordable foods. It seems that it is much more effort than it should be. Fresh, affordable, sustainably grown and raised foods should be accessible to all people, not just those of us who have the passion to learn about and seek them out.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bagel baking adventure on a snowday

With Hanukkah rapidly approaching, and much too close on the heels of Thanksgiving this year, I am so busy making gifts and trying to figure out when I can start frying latkes, that I haven't had much time to finish a new blog post. Yesterday however, we were blessed with the first snowday of the school year, and for the first time in a few years, I got to stay home with the kids and actually enjoy it instead of trying to work from home and parent at the same time.

So, while the baby slept, Ayo (my 5 year old) and I flipped through some cookbooks to settle on a cooking project for the day. His first suggestion was the good old stand by of scones, which offer quick satisfaction, and a tray of not too sweet treats that I tend to let him snack on through out the day. but, since we had a little more time than usual, we flipped through some cookbooks for something new, and when he saw a picture of some delicious looking bagels, well, it must be the training he got in his first 2 years of life in Brooklyn, living around the corner from one of the best hand made bagel bakeries in NYC, but the decision was made, and bagels it was!

Bagels are one of those treats I have always wanted to make, but have never gotten around to, and since I'm a good jewish girl, and a bagel snob, I figured it was about time i tried to boil me some bagels.

Yes, boil, that is the key to the shiny, chewy crust. while we were at it, we decided to use a little of the dough to make some pretzels too. You just add a little baking soda to the water and you're good to go.

Kneading the dough. It should be a little tacky, but not sticky.

To shape bagels, roll dough into a rope and then loop around into a circle. Stick your hand through the loop and roll the ends together firmly.

To form a pretzel, you need to roll the dough into a long rope, about 18 inches long. Loop the ends of the dough around and twist them once before folding them down into a pretzel shape. It is hard to explain, but easy if you just start rolling and playing with the dough.

Bagel topped with sesame and anise seeds

pretzel with sesame seeds and salt.
The pinch of extra salt on the pretzels added just the right touch of flavor.

Bagel recipe
As with all of my baking, I substitute a variety of flours to add flavor and nutritional value. As long as you keep at least 1/2 to 2/3 of the wheat or spelt flour, you can usually replace the rest with, rye, millet, rice or other flours. You can use all whole wheat or whole spelt flour, but it can make for a heavy dough, so I often use part white flour and part whole wheat or spelt. When substituting with different flours, you may need to add a little additional flour to obtain the proper dough texture. This recipe calls for a dough that is tacky, but not sticky. Feel free to experiment, bread doughs are more forgiving than you'd imagine!
Adapted from the Martha Stewart baking handbook:

1 teaspoon yeast
1 2/3 cups warm water
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 pound 6 ounces flour (about 4 1/4 cups)
(2/3 unbleached white flour, 1/3 other flours like rye, whole wheat, or some wheatgerm)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
seeds or salt for topping bagels

  1. Proof yeast in warm water until foamy.
  2. In a mixer with a dough hook, or by hand, mix 1 tablespoon honey, salt and flour. knead until dough forms, about 1 minute. the dough should be tacky but not sticky. add a little flour or water if needed. knead dough for 5 minutes more.
  3. Put dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and put in a warm place unitl dough has doubled in size. about 2 hours.
  4. Divide dough in 10 pieces. cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 20 minutes. roll each piece of dough into a 6 inch rope. wrap the dough in a circle around your hand and roll over the seem firmly until dough is joined.
  5. Place bagels on a parchment lined baking sheet and cover with oiled plastic wrap. let rise slightly, about 20 minutes.
  6. Preheat over to 500 degrees. In a large pot boil water and and remaining 2 tablespoons of honey.
  7. Place as many bagels as will fit without touching in the pot and boil for at least 30 seconds on each side. use a slotted spoon to remove bagels and place them on the baking sheet. sprinkle with seeds or salt immediately. as soon as all the bagels are boiled, place them in the oven. bake for 5 mintues until tops start to brown. turn over down to 350 degrees and bake about 10 minutes more until bagels are golden brown. turn over if necessary to brown bottoms.
  8. To make pretzels as well, use some of the dough and roll into a long thin rope and form into pretzel shape (see below). Add 5 tablespoons baking soda to the boiling water and boil pretzels for one minute. sprinkle with salt or sesame seeds and bake about 10 minutes, ideally at 400 degrees. If needed, just put pretzels in the oven with the bagels, and as soon as the bagels are removedfrom the oven, turn the heat back up.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Puff Cake - an easy fun weekend breakfast

Puff Cake fresh from the oven

This "cake" is based on a popover or clafouti recipe. Both of these are custardy, mildly sweet delights that are much simpler to make than they appear. My good friends Joshua and Amanda Levitt (both Naturopathic doctors, and parents to three young children) gave it the cool, kid friendly name "puff cake" which perfectly describes how it looks when it emerges from the oven.

5 eggs
1 1/2 cup flour (try 1/2 white and 1/2 wheat or any combination you like)
1 1/2cup milk or soy milk
3 tablespoons butter or oil plus extra for greasing the pan
3/4 teaspoon salt

fruit: 4 peeled and sliced fruits such as pears, apples, or peaches, or 2 cups of berries, or a mix of both.
spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger are all great additions to this cake. be creative and sprinkle a little bit of any spice you like over the fruit before roasting.

Note: have all ingredients at room temperature if possible. To bring eggs eggs to room temperature quickly, place whole eggs in a dish of very warm water and heat milk slightly to take the chill off.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Butter a large heavy frying pan or 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Add sliced fruit, season with spices or sweetener if you like, (cinnamon and sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup works well). Roast in oven until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally if needed. If using only berries, place the baking dish or pan in the oven for 10 minutes while you make the batter. Add the berries to the pan just before pouring in the batter in step #3.

2. Blend all the ingredients together, until smooth (a stick blender, regular blender or wisk all work well) A few lumps are ok.

3. Pour batter into hot pan and return to oven immediately.
bake at 450 degrees for 25 minutes. (this high heat gives the cake it's big puff). Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue cooking for another 20 to 30 minutes to cook inside of cake. Do not open oven until cooking time is complete or the cake may fall.

4. Remove puffcake from oven and sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired or just serve as is. The cake will fall as it cools. Serve with additional fruit, yogurt or even a little maple syrup.

Pear and Raspberry Puff Cake

The recipe I use is based on a popover recipe from "Baking with Julia", a great baking book to have on hand. There is a great Peach Clafouti recipe from Hindinger Farm in the upcoming book "New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven" which I have been developing. A clafouti is similar to a puff cake, but less puffy and more custardy. "New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven" will be available in January 2010.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Playing with food

Food is something to be cherished, appreciated and eaten. I feel pretty strongly about this, and don't usually promote using food as something to play with, especially considering that so many people are lacking good food, and enough of it. We do however have the good fortune to live in a country where there is an abundance of food(although not all of it so good), and I do have wonderful memories of playing in the kitchen as a kid. I used to make concoctions and potions that I would feed to my willing and eager little sister Kendra. I greatly attribute my comfort level in kitchens and creativity as a chef, to the freedom I was given as a kid to play and create in the kitchen with food.

We do a lot of baking in our house; bread, scones, muffins, cake, pies, both sweet and savory. Mostly this happens on the weekends. We use many kinds of flours in our baked goods, both to accommodate my husband's sensitivity to wheat, as well as to give us some variety in our diet.

My son Ayo, who is five, loves, and I mean LOVES playing with flour (see photo above). After helping to bake something, he usually starts trying to sneak his toy trucks onto the counter to bulldoze and dig in the flour. A few years ago we started an "ayo bag of flour" I keep it in a drawer by the counter. We pull it out after our baking is done, and the digging and dozing begins. When he is finished, the flour goes back in the bag for next time. Now his little sister joins him in the fun too.

This week after school, Ayo's friend Eva came over after school. They both like to make things, and I could see their little hands were antsy for something to do. I'm not sure what inspired the idea, but we had some clementines in the house, and a large jar of cloves (that would take us a few years to go through), so we got busy and made some pomanders, otherwise known as oranges with cloves stuck in them. These were used in victorian times as air freshener or sweeteners. Traditionally pomanders are coated in ground spices and sometimes oils, and dried for many weeks before being used. We skipped this laborious step, and are just appreciating the smell of the orange and clove while it lasts, (before the fruit starts to rot). You can also bake the clove studded orange at a very low heat in the oven to dry it out if you like.

This is a quick, fun and satisfying project for kids, especially if you use a soft clementine, making it easy for them to stick the cloves into.
pattern #1, which morphed into many things before being completely covered in cloves (clementine in the back, below)

even little Tomi (1 1/2 years old) helped push cloves into the clementine, and kept sniffing the strong smells.

To make your own simple pomander you'll need:
1 orange or clementine
whole cloves

stick cloves into the orange in a decorative pattern.
dry in oven at a low temperature if desired

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fall Harvest

Beautiful, (but short) carrots from our backyard garden. After reading the picture book Carrot Soup to my 5 year old son for a few years, we finally got around to planting a number of varieties of carrots in our own garden. These carrots are called "sugarsnaxs", and were our first crop which we pulled in early November. We ate a bunch and brought some to school for the whole kindergarten class to munch on.

One last zucchini and a few lingering raspberries off the frost kissed bush. It is great to live in a city but have a small piece of ground to plant. While I still miss Brooklyn, NY where I lived for many years, I am thankful to be back in my home town of New Haven where I have roots, and can literally plant new ones. Harvesting food we grew ourselves is such an easy reminder to be thankful for the blessings that we have, no matter how small.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

As an adult, I have always felt conflicted about celebrating Thanksgiving. I love the food, the large family gathering, and the attention to giving thanks for all the good things in our lives. But, Thanksgiving also invokes our country's violent history and genocide, a fact that is not taught to our children when they learn about the pilgrims and the Indians sitting down to a happy meal together. In my family we try to acknowledge this fact on this holiday, and focus on giving thanks for the true blessings in our lives, large and small. And then, we start cooking!

In my family, like many, the thanksgiving meal is the largest we cook all year. We always worry that we don't have enough different items to satisfy everyone's diets and tastes, and we end up with more food than we imagined, and wonderful meals for days to follow.

We love vegetables, and like to have them in many forms at any meal, and we tend to eat fairly health foods, but don't shy away from a little butter, and my family's sweet tooth guarantees that we will have a whole bunch of desserts to go along with it all!

Roasted Rosemary Turkey and Pears

I tried something a little different with the turkey this year. After a few years of successfully cooking a whole turkey, which was admired for all of two minutes before being cut into delicious but messy shreds, I was inspired to use a simple cooking technique I use for a weekday meal, for this holiday meal, and by-pass the disappointment of a perfectly roasted turkey being torn to bits.

For a special weekday meal, I love roasting chicken by searing it in a cast iron skillet until it is nicely browned, and then finishing it in a 400 degree oven until cooked through. Each piece is nicely browned and crispy on the outside and juicy and flavorful on the inside.

I didn't get it together to order a turkey from a local farmer this year, but bought a free range bird raised on grass, vegetarian feed(not corn based) and no antibiotics. 

Rosemary Roasted Turkey (Pieces) 
1 Turkey
5-8 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 head garlic, cut into very thin slivers
salt and pepper
  1. Cut the turkey up into many small pieces along the joints. Drumsticks, thighs, breasts, and then split the thighs and breasts in half or thirds if they are large.
  2. Season each piece of meat with salt and pepper beneath the skin and ontop of the skin, tuck a 1/2 a sprig of fresh rosemary and slivers of garlic under the skin.
  3. Sear the turkey pieces in a heavy bottomed pan with a little oil until each side is nicely browned. I placed all the pieces on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees until juices run clear. This time will vary depending on size. Around 30 to 50 minutes.

Top with rosemary roasted pears and onions:

Rosemary Roasted Pears
I elaborated on a recipe that bubbie Meg included in New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven (the cookbook I am developing). I tested it for the book a few months back, and since there have been large $3 bags of bosc pears at the CitySeed farmers' market for weeks, I am still making them.

The basic recipe:
10 pieces of firm fruit (apples, pears, plums, peaches)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
juice from 1 lemon

to this recipe I added: 2 sprigs of rosemary(picked), salt and pepper.
  1. Put pears in a large baking dish, cover with foil or a top and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
  2. Uncover and roast 45 - 60 minutes more, until fruit is golden and glazed. Add a sprinkle of water if the pan starts to dry out.

Roasted Onions
For the turkey I also roasted a bunch of onions. (see photo at top)
  1. Cut onions into quarters, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and place in a single layer on a baking sheet or large oven safe frying pan. 
  2. Roast at 425 until edges are browned, about 30 minutes.

Many wonderful family members helped to prepare this meal, and clean up the mess!
The rest of the meal
Brussel sprouts with vinegar glazed red onions and walnuts
Lacinata kale with garlic
Lentil salad with roasted pumpkin, goat cheese and arugula (my mom's recent favorite creation)
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry sauce (3 kinds)
Corn pudding

the whole family contributed to dessert, resulting in 6 pies for 10 people. (I meant it when I said my family has a serious sweet tooth)

With help from my 5 year old son, Ayo, our contribution consisted of a pumpkin pie from a fresh sugar pumpkin and raspberry rhubarb pie with rhubarb we'd picked form our neighbor's yard in the spring and kept in the freezer.

Guiness stout ginger cake
For an afternoon snack the day before and day after thanksgiving. Recipe from Gramercy Tavern in NYC where I did a very brief stint in pastry, but it was long enough to fall in love with this cake and many other of Claudia Flemming's fabulous desserts!

Thanksgiving lunch
The past few years we have had a relaxed family lunch while we take a break from all the holiday cooking. All of this food can be made the day before hand and reheated for a quick meal.

Squash, Apple, Celery Root soup with frico(asiago cheese crisps) and biscuits
AND: fresh picked carrots from our backyard garden on November 26th!! The cold just makes them sweeter!!!

Squash, Apple, Celery root soup
2 large onions
3 apples
1 bulb of celery root (celeriac)
1 winter squash, roasted and scooped out
fresh thyme (if you have it)

  1. Peel and chop the onions, apples and celery root.
  2. Saute in large soup pot with a little oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Add cooked squash, thyme and enough water to cover ingredients and simmer until everything is very soft.
  4. Puree soup and adjust seasoning.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Blog, Posts Coming Soon!

Recipes, thoughts on food, inspired quick cooking and many more bits, coming soon....!
stay tuned.